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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

NRL Round 5 preview: A small welcome back to crowds

After 3 rounds without fans in attendance the NRL will welcome crowds back to stadiums this week for round 5, at least in some capacity.

The NRL and NSW government will allow the use of corporate boxes to accommodate a limited number of spectators in a big step is forward for the game that will hopefully pave the way for more fans to return in the following weeks.

Into the action and there are a few top of the table clashes to whet your rugby league appetite plus a few teams desperate to ease mounting pressure.

Manly Sea Eagles (8th) vs Brisbane Broncos (10th) Thursday 11 June 7.50pm @Central Coast Stadium

Manly would feel hard done by after last week’s heart-breaking loss to the Parramatta Eels.

While they didn’t come away with the victory, Manly lost few admirers from that performance and go into this match against the Broncos as near certainties to get the win.

The Broncos have been under immense scrutiny since last Thursday’s 59-0 loss to the Roosters.

Despite the flogging coach Anthony Seibold has resisted mass change, leaving the struggling Darius Boyd and Anthony Milford in the starting side.

The most notable change for Brisbane is Corey Oates shifting to the back row, but it’s hard to see that being enough to spark his side to challenge Manly.

Payne Haas has played a lone hand for the Broncos the past two weeks.

New Zealand Warriors (14th) vs North Queensland Cowboys (7th) Friday 12 June 6pm @Central Coast Stadium

Both sides failed to fire in round 4 after winning impressively the week before.

The Warriors were held scoreless by the Panthers in a performance lacking the execution they showed in round 3 for their 18-0 win against the Dragons.

They’ll need to be more creative in attack and take a few risks to be able to produce enough chances to win this one because the Cowboys can score points.

Jason Taumalolo has been named on the reserves list for the Cowboys this match and they’ll be desperate for him to be available because he was missed badly last week.

North Queensland only completed at 61% last week and it cost them dearly so they will need to sure up their play to win this one.

Parramatta Eels (1st) vs Penrith Panthers (3rd) Friday 12 June 7.55pm @Bankwest Stadium

Tie for match of the round. The Eels and the Panthers are both undefeated so far in 2020 and with each side at full strength this should be a beauty.

Parramatta have been in fine form since the COVID break and come into this one battle hardened after a tough win against Manly.

Nathan Brown returns to lock to bolster their forward pack while Dylan Brown and Mitchell Moses continue to impress in the halves.

The Panthers welcome back Nathan Cleary and have opted to partner him with Jarome Luai, shifting the star of last week Matt Burton to the bench.

While the Panthers were good in round 4 against the Warriors, the Eels pose a much bigger threat. They will need Cleary to return at his best to win this one.

Nathan Cleary is a big inclusion for the Panthers in their blockbuster against the Eels.

South Sydney Rabbitohs (13th) vs Gold Coast Titans (15th) Saturday 13 June 3pm @Bankwest Stadium

Who would’ve thought the Titans would come into this match in better form than the Rabbitohs?

The Rabbitohs are 1-3 this season after finishing 3rd last year and have been outclassed by the Roosters and Storm the last two weeks.

If the quicker speed of the game was going to suit anyone, it would appear Damien Cook is that man, yet he has been held quiet in both games.

Cam Murray moving to the middle helped their go forward, but they need more out of their other forwards to give Cook the platform he needs.

Titans Coach Justin Holbrook made plenty of changes to his side heading into round 4 and they responded, recording their first win in 364 days to the delight of their patient fans.

Half Ash Taylor was under extreme pressure heading into the match and after he threw an early intercept, it appeared he would succumb to it.

But to his credit, Taylor came up with some big plays and helped steer his team to victory along with Moeaki Fotuaika who again was enormous, running for 217 metres.

The test will be for the Titans to back it up but there’s no reason to suggest they can’t push the out of form Rabbitohs.

Newcastle Knights (2nd) vs Melbourne Storm (5th) Saturday 13 June 5.30pm @Central Coast Stadium

The other match of the round. The Knights have been the most impressive team this season while the Storm battled their way to a win last week.

The Knights were superb against the Raiders in a dominant win with the returning Kalyn Ponga proving he’s worth his new $1.1 million a season price tag.

Ponga and Bradman Best ran amuck against the Raiders and the Storm will have to be at their defensive best to curtail their influence.

Their forward pack is firing on all cylinders as well with David Klemmer, Herman Ese’ese and Daniel and Jacob Saifiti making metres at will.

The Storm were less impressive in their victory over the Rabbitohs, making several basic mistakes you rarely see from Craig Bellamy coached sides.

Luckily for Melbourne Cam Munster was brilliant; the showdown between him and Queensland teammate Kalyn Ponga will be must watch television.

The Storm get Nelson Asofa-Solomona back from suspension which will help bolster their forward stocks coming up against the in-form Knights pack.

Munster vs Ponga is sure to be must watch television when these sides clash.

Wests Tigers (9th) vs Canberra Raiders (4th) Saturday 13 June 7.35pm @Campbelltown Stadium

Both teams will be looking to bounce back after disappointing losses last week.

Tigers coach Michael Maguire was seething after their loss to the Titans and responded by dropping veteran Benji Marshall, replacing him with Josh Reynolds.

Raiders coach Ricky Stuart was equally unimpressed with his side, accusing them of “playing like children” against the Knights.

However, Stuart has stuck with the 17 that played last week.

Canterbury Bulldogs (12th) vs Sydney Roosters (6th) Sunday 14 June 4.05pm @Bankwest Stadium

Canterbury and Easts are both coming off big wins, but on paper there is a real class difference between the sides.

The Bulldogs answered the critics with a 22-2 win over the Dragons but there are real question marks over the Dragons so it’s hard to read too much into that win.

Five-eighth Kieran Foran made a difference to their attack while second row Adam Elliott continues to prove he is their most reliable player, but the Dogs will need more than just those two at their best to win this one.

The Roosters have looked irresistible since the COVID break with dominant wins over the Rabbitohs and Broncos.

They won 59-0 last week and they get possibly the best player in the world back into their side in James Tedesco.

A three-peat beckons for the Roosters and they should have too much class for the Bulldogs.

St George Illawarra Dragons (16th) vs Cronulla Sharks (11th) Sunday 14 June 6.30pm @Campbelltown Stadium

The Sharks got off the mark last week with a good win up in Townsville against the Cowboys with Jesse Ramien the star of the show bagging two tries and a try-assist.

With Andrew Fifita named to start for the Sharks, if Ramien and Wade Graham continue their stellar form Cronulla should have too much fire power for the Dragons.

The Dragons are the only winless team remaining after 4 rounds, managing just 2 points in the last two weeks.

According to reports Coach Paul ‘Mary’ McGregor has been given four weeks to keep his job, so if the players are fair dinkum in supporting Mary, they will have to turn up with more fire in the belly than the last two weeks.

In worse news for St George, Origin backrower Tariq Sims is out with a wrist injury while under pressure half Ben Hunt keeps his spot in the starting side.

Although McGregor’s been given four weeks to turn it around, if the Dragons dish up what they have since returning from the break it’s hard to see him surviving one.

Ben Hunt is under extreme pressure to perform for the Dragons this weekend.

Read the round 4 review here.

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